In recent days, five potential candidates for president in 1996 have hinted of their ambitions. And that's just among the Democrats. There are 19 -- count 'em -- 19 Republicans mentioned as possible presidential nominees in the next election.
It's clear why Democrats are so restless and Republicans so eager. President Clinton, who in 1992 got the smallest share (43 percent) of the popular vote of any successful Democratic presidential candidate in 80 years, has now led his party through an election in which its candidates for Congress got the smallest share of the popular vote (49 percent) in the past 42 years.
And in the first post-election polls, the president lost a trial heat to Sen. Bob Dole of Kansas. Even without a specific challenger to measure him against, he was favored for re-nomination among Democrats by a not-very-commanding 57-33 percent. Challenging a Democratic president in the primaries is business as usual for Democrats. Jimmy Carter had to fight Sen. Edward Kennedy for re-nomination, and Lyndon Johnson and Harry Truman were challenged while they mulled over seeking re-nomination.
Sen. John Breaux of Louisiana uttered the conventional wisdom among disenchanted Democrats. If the president doesn't "get back on track," by which he means get more conservative, Mr. Breaux said "he could well have a challenge -- and it would come from the right." Retiring Sen. David Boren of Oklahoma, a conservative, has said he might run in the 1996 primaries. Such talk has prompted Jesse Jackson to suggest he might run, in the primaries or as a leftist third-party candidate. And Sen. Bob Kerrey of Nebraska, a Clinton foe in 1992, sounded like a potential candidate recently when he called the congressional election results "a severe, sharp, obvious repudiation of the president."
Eyeing all this, Sen. Phil Gramm, R-Texas, has been campaigning in Iowa and New Hampshire, reminding voters he's more conservative than Senator Dole. Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., has been there, too, announcing that he is more liberal. Others out actively campaigning are former Tennessee Gov. Lamar Alexander, Dan Quayle and Senator Dole. A mob scene of possibilities is mentioned by Washington pundits: Jack Kemp, Gov. John Engler, Gov. Tommy Thompson, Gov. Pete Wilson, Gov. William Weld, Gov. Christine Whitman, Sen. Orrin Hatch, Sen. William Cohen, Dick Cheney, Jim Baker, Colin Powell, Pat Buchanan, Ross Perot, Oliver North (honest!).
And it's early yet.